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Victoria to take on ACT in historic women’s gridiron clash

Foxes running back Kelly Scrivener evades the defence. Credit: Ed Saribatir

Foxes running back Kelly Scrivener evades the defence. Credit: Ed Saribatir

At a Victorian Foxes Women’s Gridiron team practice session, the first thing that hits you is the sound.

The bass-drum boom of bone-jarring, body on body contact. The shuffle and scrape of feet across dry grass. The hiss and fizz of the football as it spirals and slices through the thick summer air. The heavy silence in the second before the ball is snapped; the second before all hell breaks loose.

When it comes to the Foxes, it has nothing to do with looks. They sound like the real deal – and they are.

Their sport is not the highly publicized, but oft criticized “lingerie league”.

It’s real, full kit, full tackle football, and this Saturday the squad takes on the ACT Tornadoes in a ground-breaking, history making contest.

The match will be the first ever interstate game of women’s gridiron played in Australia, while both teams are also slated to play against a Queensland side in the coming weeks.  

For the Victorian team, this weekend will be a just reward for the mountain of work it took to get the sport to this point. 

Rewind to a touch over 12 months ago, when a less than half a dozen women came together in Melbourne with the idea of starting a team under the Ladies Football League that had just launched in Queensland.

As Victorian quarterback and squad captain Erin Casey recalls, after a handful of training sessions, they decided to break from the LFL and play full kit gridiron, forming a team under the moniker of the ‘Western Foxes’.

“There were about four of us throwing the ball and running very basic routes,” she says of the early days.

“Within a month or so, we had our current coaches join us and the development of the team really took off.”

Quaterback Erin Casey throws to receiver Ashlee West. Credit: Ed Saribatir.

Quaterback Erin Casey throws to receiver Ashlee West. Credit: Ed Saribatir.

From there, it was a slog of recruiting, promoting and two-a-week practices. As the months (and bruises) piled up, so did the players.

The sport may be deep in its infancy, but the Foxes are a fully fledged team.   

The squad held four intense intra-squad scrimmages in November-December last year, under full match conditions. The passion for the game was already evident, but the scrimmages were able to build the knowledge, skills, and ultimately, the desperate desire for further competition.

Then it was only a matter of logistics, and finding a way to bring the Victorian, ACT and Queensland sides together for a series of contests.

Foxes player and President Julia Birks says the upcoming matches provide a chance to not only compete, but showcase and recruit.

“As both teams are still growing the sport in their respective states, an interstate match gives each team the opportunity for earnest competition, and most importantly, to send a message that women across Australia are ready to put in the hard yards to play this sport,” she says.

“We can lay out the hits, run the routes, complete the catches and move the chains just as the guys can.”

Foxes Offensive Coach Marc Dauria says this weekend is an occasion to show how quickly full kit women’s gridiron has been developed and embraced in Australia.  

“The crowd can expect the Foxes show off a very tough and punishing defence to support a sound run and pass packaged offense,” he says.

“The conditioning and practice is now over, fine tuning has been finalised and it’s time to put it out on the park.”

Full back CJ Fernandez fights through the defence. Credit: Ed Saribatir

Full back CJ Fernandez fights through the defence. Credit: Ed Saribatir

Casey says spectators who head along to either of the Foxes games will be in for a show.

“It will be two quality games of football with women who have dedicated themselves to training hard over the past few months,” she says.

“We are all excited about the challenge that lies ahead of us.”

Next season will see sport continue to grow in Victoria, with the introduction of a second team to the competition – the Northern Raiders. Clubs based at Melbourne University and Geelong have both flagged interest in starting full kit women’s teams.

New South Wales also have intentions of coming to the party, while Dauria believes the game could go even bigger.

“It’s my dream to see an Australian team entered into the 2017 World Cup,” he says.

For those in Melbourne keen to check out the action, head to down to Ranger Field on Springfield Avenue in Croydon at 4pm on Saturday March 2. Victoria will face Queensland at the same venue on March 23.

By Erin Byrnes

Twitter: @erin_byrnes

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